It's the fantasy baseball draft season. To us baseball nerds, few things are more exciting than arguing about player rankings. Today, we'll discuss and compare Byrce Harper's RotoBaller staff rankings. He was ranked No. 8 overall by Jeff Kahntroff, and No. 19 by Brad Johnson.
Throughout this series, we'll be using our February Staff Rankings to debate where to draft certain players. In cases where our writers had discrepancies, we've asked them to explain their rankings. These debates will provide us with some well-rounded analysis, and help identify undervalued/overvalued draft picks.
Editor's note: Be sure to also check out our 2017 fantasy baseball rankings dashboard. It's already loaded up with tons of great rankings articles and draft analysis. Aside from our tiered staff rankings for every position, we also go deep on MLB prospect rankings, impact rookies for 2017, and dynasty/keeper rankings as well. Bookmark the page, and win your drafts.
2017 Draft Rankings Debate: Bryce Harper
Jeff Kahntroff's Rankings Analysis
His Overall Ranking: 8
We are one year removed from debating whether Trout or Harper should be the number one player. In 2015, at the age of 22, he posted a .330/42/118/99/6 fantasy line. At 23, he started off with a scorching-hot April, on a 162-game pace of .286/63/113/169/35 line. It looked like Harper was somehow improving and the clear number one fantasy player. What happened?
While the answer is unclear, reports are that Harper suffered a shoulder injury at some point and played through it, which affected his numbers. He was hardly an elite fantasy asset the rest of the year, posting a .243/24/84/86/21 line for the year. So, how scared should we be that he will post another 2016?
Harper is definitely a risky play. Ranking him so highly goes against my standard rule of drafting for high floor early. But Harper’s upside is too hard for me to pass, as he could be far and away the number one player. He will be 24 all of next year, and he had a clear reason for his down performance in 2016. If things go right, you are looking at a potential .330 hitter with 45 homers and possibly over 20 steals. This year, the Nationals will have Adam Eaton and a full season of Trea Turner. Daniel Murphy was not with the club in Harper’s breakout 2015. In other words, the lineup should be more potent. How many other players have the career highs of .330/42/118/99/21, while still on the right side of the aging curve and with their best lineup to date?
Having Harper at 19 means you will never draft him, which is too risk averse. If Harper recaptures his 2015 form, he can go a long way to winning you the league. Even in his down year, he was one of only 9 players to go 20-20, and was on a 162-game pace of .243/26/93/95/23, which is a stomachable floor for me given his upside.
Brad Johnson's Rankings Analysis
His Overall Ranking: 19
In a general sense, Jeff and I agree on a lot of things about Harper. The ceiling is still number one overall, but the volatility may lead to some indigestion. Where we differ is in how we value that profile.
We saw Harper's downside last year - nagging injuries led to middling fantasy production. By ESPN's player rater, he ranked as the 48th hitter last season, sandwiched between Chris Davis and Jose Abreu. If Harper repeats that performance and you draft him eighth overall, you've given yourself a very uphill battle to fantasy victory. And while it's easy to assume he'll be healthy again, he's already accrued a long list of minor ailments over his short career. The issue is his gritty style. He plays without regard to his limitations. He writes checks his body can't cash.
In 2016, Harper developed numerous holes in his approach. He was exploitable on the outside corner and his ground ball contact turned into easy outs. Again, if we want to, we can shrug those away as a health issue. Or they might signal a more lasting problem.
The 21 stolen bases buoyed his fantasy production despite a terrible 67.7 percent success rate (21-for-31). When a team has a good lineup, the break even rate for steals increases. For the 2017 Nationals, a base thief may need something like a 80 percent success rate to break even. Otherwise, they're just throwing away outs and runs. Conversely, the Padres break even rate is probably closer to 70 percent. Harper really shouldn't be attempting any steals except in very specific scenarios. Stolen bases also contribute to his injury risk profile.
If I'm going to chase Harper's upside, I can't justify targeting him in the first round. There are too many players available who will predictably perform at a very high level. Go ahead and take a look at our staff rankings. The first 12 names are blue chip stars. The next 12 have just as much talent, but there's much more risk involved. Selecting Harper in the first round almost guarantees that you're setting a very volatile foundation in the first two rounds of your draft. If that means I'll never pick Harper this spring, I don't mind.